Monday, September 13, 2010

Brave Pickle Frontier

One of the first things we did upon arriving in MA was to join a CSA. Our first week of pickup, we ended up with quite a few pickling cucumbers. After a quick call to Danila at the Dacha Project for his grandma's pickle recipe, we set to work making quick pickles for refrigeration, not canning. Simplest pickles I've ever attempted: halved the cukes, shoved them in a jar with 2T kosher salt and some garlic cloves, poured boiling water over the whole deal, let sit in the cupboard (caps loosely screwed on) for a week or so. Because we had varying advice on how much salt to include, and we were using kosher and not pickling salt, we put 3T of salt in one of the three jars. After a week, two of the jars looked cloudy and gross, with the high salt jar looking clear as a bell. I shoved the cloudy jars to the back of the cabinet so I wouldn't have to face them. When I tried the saltier pickles, they were, well, EXTREMELY salty. I ate half before giving up.

I was disappointed at the pickle failure. After all, we'd never had many problems fermenting anything, and pickles seemed like a pretty basic thing to screw up.

Enter today's random encounter of a video of Sandor Katz (Wild Fermentation) on BoingBoing. In said video, we are reminded that you cannot get botulism from fermenting vegetables, because botulism occurs when you kill every microbe in your stored food and provide a non-acidic, anaerobic environment for the only bacteria you didn't kill to thrive in. Fermented veggies are acidic and full of competent wee organisms. If something is wrong with your fermented veggies, you will be able to tell by sight (mold) or texture, and if you taste it, it won't kill you.
Emboldened by this reminder, we headed straight for the kitchen to try the cloudy pickles, which had now been fermenting for about 2 weeks in the back of the cabinet. The brine looked unappealing, but the pickles themselves looked fine, and when we bit into them, they had a perfect crunchy texture and garlicky taste. They definitely tasted a bit more lacto-fermenty than I am used to in a pickle, but a good pickle nonetheless. Thanks Sandor, for saving two jars of locally grown, homemade pickles from the compost!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Houses Have Walls

Our new bedroom came with some pretty fugly wallpaper. This isn't it. See the gray stuff in the photo below? Yeah. That's it.

We knew right away that the paper had to go. Naturally, we wanted to find a cheap and safe method for removing the stuff. Our housemate said she'd just helped her friends de-paper an entire house, and they had used a mixture of fabric softener and hot water in a spray bottle to make removal easier. I must have been hypnotized by the hideousness of the wall covering, because this sounded like a fantastic idea to me. I ran to the convenience store, bought a bottle of Downy, threw it in a spray bottle, and sprayed down an entire wall before it hit me--this stuff smells AWFUL, and I just covered my wall with it.

We had to run the fan for about a week before the perfume smell dissipated. In that time, I suffered some pretty severe headaches whenever I spent time in the room (I'm sensitive to perfumes, you see).

In any event, the vinyl paper turned out to be pretty easy to remove by hand with little or no treatment. I used vinegar and hot water in the stubborn spots, but it mostly peeled right off, revealing a 2nd layer below. I think the second layer may have been original to the house (1930s) because there's nothing underneath it, just raw unpainted plaster. I actually rather like the pattern, and I was a bit sad that it was so badly ruined in the process of removing the evil stuff someone thought would somehow look better. We even pondered living with the damaged stuff, sort of a gray gardens chic, if you will. But alas, there were just too many large gaping holes to make it livable.

This layer has been harder to remove than the first, but we are chipping away at it slowly. We're planning to try a homemade milk paint in its place.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Home at Last

We arrived in our new home in Western MA over a month ago. The transition to a new life and a new job has been a lot to handle, let alone process. A lot has changed since my last post.

We are no longer living in the prairie schooner. We called the schooner home for the first three weeks we were in Massachusetts, which means we lived (rent free) in 54 sq. ft. for a grand total of nine weeks. I feel pretty good about that. Fantasies of living in that tiny space through the winter aside, we know in practical terms that our little home on wheels is a seasonal home at most. I am looking forward to putting it to use in new capacities now that it is not our primary residence. It will serve as a backyard reading room/clubhouse, and will shelter us during events such as the 3-day Radio Station Barnraising we're attending in a few weeks.

Our new home is a community house that we share with 5 other folks. Neither of us thought we'd be living in a group house again, but when we met with the folks at the Parish House about parking the wagon in the yard, we realized we were a perfect fit for their open room. The house itself is literally a Parish House, built in the 1930s, and at one time it stood next door to a church. The church became a BBQ joint at some point (Holy Smokes) which then...burned down. True story! It's a beautiful place with great bones, and there's even a dirt-floored root cellar in the basement. We were able to jump right in and plant some fall veggies in a vacant plot in the garden, and aside from the lack of chickens we are feeling quite at home.

The house is not a formal collective, and yet we seem to be developing an informal collective that I have high hopes will function well. We're developing a plan to share most food purchases, simplifying things by buying into CSAs and maybe a dairy delivery service. There are many home improvement projects on the roster, including preparing the root cellar for use, building an improved compost system, chickens (yay!), and building a work space in the garage. I will be writing more about our new experiment in community living as it develops.

Returning to Western MA has felt like coming home in a wonderful way. Living in an agricultural area rich with organic farming operations is such a boon, and my definition of a local diet is readjusting to more of a 20 mile radius versus the 100 mile radius considered local in New Mexico. I love the feel of this small New England town as it transitions into fall. The air crisping, harvest in full swing, the students returning, something going on all the time. I could go on and on, but this post is rather long enough already.

I suspect you'll be hearing more regular dispatches from me again, now that I have a thin grasp on my new life and its new responsibilities. Til then...